Dental tourism: Americans leaving the country for oral health care

Experts say many thousands of Americans are now going abroad for dental care. The growing phenomenon of dental tourism is believed to make up a sizable portion of the worldwide multibillion-dollar medical tourism market.

While exact numbers are impossible to find, and even estimates are scarce, the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions estimated that 1.6 million Americans would traveled abroad for all types of medical care in 2012 with dental treatments heading the list of procedures sought.

Find out why people are leaving the country for care, some of the concerns about receiving care in other countries as well as some sources for reporting in this new tip sheet.

1 thought on “Dental tourism: Americans leaving the country for oral health care

  1. Laura Henze Russell

    There are several major reasons for the growth of dental tourism.

    1) We do not have integrated health and dental insurance in the U.S. Dental insurance is strictly a business contract that has no provisions for medical necessity or patient protection. When patients need to do things outside the scope of the contract, even when medically necessary, it is expensive, and there is no coverage.

    2) The costs of dental materials in the U.S. are much higher than the cost of those same materials overseas. Talk with people from other countries, and you may learn they get their dental work done when visiting home, saving thousands of dollars.

    3) The U.S. lags much of the advanced and some of the developing world in recognizing the health impacts and risks of dental amalgam, which off-gases mercury, for genetically susceptible children and adults. The FDA ruled in 2009 it is only Class II with Special Controls, requiring warnings from manufacturers to dentists, but not from dentists to patients. There are no consumer labels, no patient information, and no written informed consent for installation of a medical device that contains a neurotoxin. Five advanced nations ban amalgam use, and many including Canada and much of Europe now require health warnings and informed written consent.

    4) This gives dental amalgam protected status as “standard of care” even if you are in a high risk group. This is why dental insurers can ignore, and deny, appeals based on medical necessity despite doctors letters and proof of harm such as elevated mercury levels and chronic diseases and symptoms consistent with mercury poisoning.

    5) Depending on the number of molars and bicuspids involved, patients are forced to pay five figures and cannot access the premiums they paid for decades for the additional cost of alternative filling materials, so they go overseas.

    6) The ADA fights tooth and nail to defend amalgam use at all costs, and the FDA is happy to oblige. Commissioner Hamburg held stock options from Henry Schein as FDA Commissioner and sat on their board for six years before taking office. She only recused herself from the flawed 2009 ruling within the last few weeks, and Schein wrote that it was deeply indebted to her work on the FDA ruling.

    7) There are three U.S.-based dental associations that train dentists in biologic, biocompatible dentistry, and attract dentists internationally: the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, the International Association of Biological Dentistry and Medicine, and the Holistic Dental Association.

    8) There is also a considerable amount of dental tourism within the United States. People drive good distances, even out of state, to find knowledgeable, expertly trained biologic dentists. There are about 700 IAOMT members, about 600 of whom are dentists, including some from other nations. So there are roughly 10 biologic dentists per state, on average. People flock to them.

    9) Journalists need to take a fresh look here. Resources such as the Shorenstein Center’s Journalist Resource admit that their algorithms are inadequate to give accurate, current guidance on medical topics, but they do not post a disclaimer. The APHA rescinded its support in 2013 for an interim policy statement that declared dental amalgam a safe and effective restorative material. I ask other journalists why they do not cover the issue and I am told that there is a long history of controversy. There is controversy for a reason. The job of independent media and journalists is to dive deeply into these kinds of issues, not avoid or sidestep them.

    10) The IAOMT is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed March 5th against the FDA and HHS for failure to respond to a petition for reconsideration of its flawed 2009 Class II rule, which detailed numerous errors in the FDA’s risk assessment, which ignored the recommendations of its Scientific Advisory Panel. The APA requires a response within one year, it has been 54 months. The FDA’s response has been to archive all of the materials related to its 2010 Hearing on the Petition for Reconsideration and Regional Public Hearings, which had strong testimony on this, so they are hard to locate through a search. I have the links for interested reporters.

    If you want sources for in-depth reporting on this issue, additionally google and contact me. I am working on a major piece on this and am happy to share as this topic needs the broadest national, regional and local coverage. I’d also recommend the IAOMT website and searchable library, and the DrBicuspid website, for which it is free to register. Learn about the inside debates within in the industry, and listen to injured and recovered patients and dental staff, including biologic dentists themselves – not just what the ADA and FDA have been saying for decades, ignoring new science on the impact of genetic glitches and toxins in triggering inflammation and chronic diseases.

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